Behold, I Shine by Freny Manecksha has presented a vivid picture of Kashmiri Women’s sacrifices, resistance and their remarkable resilience as well. Freny in this book sees Kashmiri women as both the Resilient Protagonist and Hapless Sufferers of Occupation.
The book caught my level of enjoyment and made my heart more eager to buy it when it was released in Kashmir. I again was caught hold, and felt emotional by its cover when I bought it. The cover design is given by Rollie Mukherjee, a famous Indian Artist. The cover, if anyone sees, will definitely make him / her dip into many connotations of women’s sacrifices and mournings in a conflict-torn nation.
Men in Kashmir have always been focussed and given the light as well as reflection of solidarity. No doubt they have suffered a lot, but those loyal to truth and equality, must never forget the sufferings of Kashmiri Women too.
The book entails the narratives of Kashmiri women and children who have been suffering the pain of separation from their loved ones; the afflictions caused by occupation; the ugly face of society in the form of stigma and the sponsored ire (in the garb of national security). This book, in every sense, gives a vivid picture of Kashmiri Women, who, despite facing the occupational hideous acts, have shown remarkable Resistance and Resilience therefore making the struggle against the occupation and oppression alive.
Behold, I Shine outrightly reflects the account of horror and daily life of Kashmiri women given the circumstances of a conflict hit Kashmir. It actually presents the voice for Freedom by the women folk of Kashmir.
The name of this book comes from the line of English Translation of the poem by Habba Khatoon. The book is based on ten chapters and sets its journey through introduction giving a brief history of Kashmir since 1846- the treaty of Amritsar from the British. The history goes and stops at the discussion of the martyrdom of Burhan Wani; the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen- armed militants group. And the journey gets started from the reader when the page turns to the first chapter; A Soldier Under A Chinar which unveils the shades of occupation in terms of high Militarization. As it’s known that oppression comes with multifarious issues and challenges in the form of fear and mental health instability. Freny, in this chapter, tries to see them all within the purview of given situation and circumstances. She has taken and assembled notes from everyone related to this phenomenon and share the byte of a Kashmiri Woman;
“These symbols of occupation are now so entrenched in our psyche that we unconsciously use them as markers for directions. If I’ve to guide a stranger, I no longer refer to tree-lined avenues or ancient houses as signposts. I say, turn at the CRPF camp, go towards the check-post, and turn right near the bunker.”
And hence, after going through the accounts of Kashmiri Journalists and Authors, Freny discovers the image of new lifeless Kashmir which, once, used to be set prettified and praised through the words of every writer and poet for its spellbinding aesthetic aura. And, at the end of this chapter, writes;
“I have come to realize that Kashmir is no place for picnics- not as long as it remains occupied. Not as long as there is a soldier under the Chinar.”
Occupation, once it enters and covers a society, leads to the complete exposition of privacy, and therefore the word ‘privacy’ remains confined to a mere lexicon. The private doesn’t remain private then, for where there is occupation, there is oppression and hence freedom gets thrown and engraved! Freny, in this book, has also talked about the Crackdowns as in when there are Crackdowns in any part of Kashmir, the whole place becomes privacy-less that’s when Indian troops enter a house, they deliberately scatter the intimate objects enclosed in the personal closets of women. Thus nothing remains private and this kind of harassment continues and becomes an ‘ethical code of conduct’. And the author, from a respondent, reflects;
“Once a village elder was called by the soldiers to read aloud the stashed-away love letters of a young girl”
Not only love letters were made to read aloud but there are other signs of snatching the privacy in a complete ugly manner. In one Crackdown in a village of District Shopian, Indian Troops had hanged the sanitary pads of a teen-age girl with the only motive to degrade both men and women. And some respondents have said,
“The magic of moonlight was replaced by nightmares as the nights turned menacing with the nineties”
When a woman becomes mother of a baby girl while her husband is picked up by Indian Armed Troops and never returns, Freny, in third and sixth chapter, expounds well the continuous struggle of women in searching their loved ones and their longing for the reunion, who became the victims of enforced disappearances and custodial killings. A widow describes her loss as,
“I knew the joys of being a bride for four months. My husband would never see his unborn child. My son was fated to never know a father’s love. It wasn’t person one person who died that day in this family but three.”
The book also deals with the insights of young generation also known as The Tehreek Generation, stated in the fourth chapter of this book. How they see and define occupation, and fight it, Freny has truly provided the factual testament to the readers.
The most significant part of this book in fifth chapter; How Do I Tell My Story?, unveils the sexual violence inflicted on Kashmiri women by Indian Armed Troops, and strongly repudiates the long bias towards the Gujjar Community of Kashmir. And the account is as under,
“In the year 2004, Pakeeza (name changed), a Gujjar woman from South Kashmir, was, in full view of her family, raped by Indian Army Personnel and after the incident a senior army officer had offered the family a sum of Rs 5 Lac in exchange of silence.”
Like Pakeeza, there are few more cases of same and high magnitude quoted in the chapter. And, what is more heart wrenching and disrespectful than the ugly nature and reaction of society towards the victims of sexual violence! I always got astonished for why women are more reserved in revealing the actual incident to the researchers, and the only reason is societal apathy towards these victims. And the best example of encountering societal apathy and ugly nature is Hameeda (name changed), a woman from Kupwara, who was sexually assaulted by DSP, who is accused in other Human Rights Violations. The book keeps the incidents neutral as in, quoting sexual violence committed by both Indian Armed Troops and Militants in the chapter.
And what happens when a woman gets sexually assaulted, that is, these victims are seen as ‘spoiled goods’ as mentioned in the book. What she (Hameeda) reveals is very shameful for a society which seems dead and odd in dealing with the victims like these.
“Relatives told my mother I was no longer acceptable. My aunt said, yehhumarikuchnahilagti (she is nobody to us!)”
And this is, as well explained in the book as, zulm at two levels – done by the state as well as by society.
A reader of this book would certainly ask about the ‘justice’ delivered by the state for the crimes perpetrated against Kashmiri women and the answer is, some victims have lost the faith in this word ‘Justice’ and some are still keeping hopes from the state and join the queue of UmeedHai!.
The document will inevitably prove to be more beneficial for women folk of other countries so as to learn the art of fighting with mighty power. And it’ll make them able to reach to the strengths made hidden through power. The book abides by the cover page and name as in throwing light into the shades of pain inflicted upon the women of Kashmir.
The targeted audience of this book seems to me women, as I already said, from around the world so as to exposit before them the Resilience shown by Kashmiri Women, who, despite of all odds have come forward to fight, fight in the same spirit, against occupation and oppression.
I can write more and more about the book but to have an original essence; one must read this well researched book. Therefore I will say the book is worth reading and insightful in all the forms.
Khan Ansur, an Independent Researcher and Professional Social Worker based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, can be reached at Khanansurfeb2011@gmail.com